He is the most unknown, well-known director out there. That, of course, probably being a bit of an exaggeration, but one gets the point. He has directed only six films in the last 39 years, but damn are they good films. I am speaking of Terrence Malick the “Bad Boy” of Hollywood. I coin him as the “Bad Boy” due to his method of directing, and the fact that he made an amazing picture and decided to run away to France for 20 years before picking up the camera again.
Recently, I went to a viewing of Days of Heaven. A 1970’s, American film, shot in our neighbor to the north Alberta, Canada, which has two very well-known actors and a fire scene worth a montage in Andrew Dominik’s newest feature. It was, if nothing else, a very pretty picture full of lyricism and bursting at the seams with poetic justice. In the footsteps of John Ford, Malick uses nature as much to motivate the plot as the characters. The cinematography, by Néstor Almendros, was directly influenced by the paintings of Edward Hopper, painter of Nighthawks (1942).
These two images are film stills from Days of Heaven, which are both examples of the use of landscape terms of plot. Also the images provide visual representation of the adaptation, on the cinematographers, of the Edward Hopper paintings.
A more artistic choice on the part of Malick, a common characteristic in his films, is the use of non-continuity editing and dialogue. Relationships are often never fully disclosed, there are questionable actions, such as a fight where it is never known if the opposing figure lives or dies. There are also cuts made that do not make sense, a shot of the two main characters embracing, a cut to a different character and when the camera cuts back to the two characters they are standing on opposite sides with no explanation why. As we have learned through recent award-winning films such as The Departed (2006) continuity has no part in the editing game. It seems that these “mistakes” are considered artistic choice. In this case one cannot credit or blame the editor. Malick always has the same continuity issues but never uses the same editor, cinematographer or writers. He is a true auteur in the French 1950’s, Andre Bazin sense of the word.
The most common complaint of the audience for this film is the use of a voiceover that is not traditional in the way it sounds. The character of Linda, who we never really know who she is in terms of other characters, has a thick “Chicago” accent and often sounds very masculine for being a young girl. The result of the voiceover has left the likes of Phil Solomon finding the feature less than inspiring. It really comes down to personal taste.
This film is worth checking-out. It was well cast, beautifully shot, simple film that established Malick as an artist and as a filmmaker. It is debatable if this transformation happened with Badlands (1973) or not until The Thin Red Line (1998). For arguments sake, I advocate that it started here with Days of Heaven, but as with any opinion I am open to discuss.